"Once that band gives you that down beat...just for that brief two or three minutes you forget every problem you had. You have no cares in the world...Yeah it must be nice to live like that with no cares in the world" - Wilbert Rawlins Jr.

Living in a city traumatized by a flood and besieged by street violence, there's a deep longing to have "no cares in the world". But New Orleans is also the birth place of jazz: a community that to this day draws on a deeply rooted musical culture. For thousands of kids in the city's marching bands music is an escape, a refuge and a lifeline.

The Whole Gritty City is a documentary feature film that will premiere at The New Orleans Film Festival in October 2013. It tells the story of three New Orleans marching bands as they push to prepare for Mardi Gras parades, and three band directors battling for their students' lives and souls. It shows lives stopped in their tracks by the violence of the streets, and the power of music to lift and sustain the survivors.



"I'm competing with the drug dealers"   - Derrick Tabb

A roomful of 9-14 year-olds in The Roots of Music, the city's newest band, beat our rhythms on tables, still waiting for drums to arrive. Horn players barely coax sounds from instruments completely new to them. They all look up with respect, love, and a little fear, to the new program's founder, Derrick Tabb, the drummer from the legendary Rebirth Brass Band. Tabb had once been an angry kid on a downward spiral until his own middle school band director set him on a new course.

11-year old Bear is intent on mastering his new trumpet as a section leader in The Roots of Music. The realities of the streets loom large in Bear's life: in the blocks he avoids, the corners he flees at the sound of gunshots, in the photo of his brother, shot dead a year and a half ago at age 19.


"This ain't no make believe. You all know struggle. Everybody's struggling".               - Lonzie Jackson

Lonzie Jackson, the new director of The L.E. Rabouin High School Marching Band is transforming the band room into an oasis of order in a chaotic school.

"Some of the best people come from the hood....A lot of people who come from the gutter rise up and do bigger and better things with their lives. And that's real". - Kirk

In 16-year-old Kirk's struggle with his temper and the need to act tough, music sustains him: when he's not playing tuba in the Rabouin band he's at church where he performs impassioned mime dancing to gospel songs.

18-year-old Rabouin drum major Skully keeps a video camera close at hand, giving us a glimpse of his life outside of band, giving a shout-out to loved ones who have been killed, including "Mr. Shavers, the man who made it possible for me to be a drum major". As Skully leads the band in the parades, foremost in his mind is the musician who started the band, and then was murdered before he ever got to see his students play their instruments.


"It's hard to get the hood out of them. Because as soon as he hits that block, he's got to get hood again". - Wilbert Rawlins Jr.

Leading The O. Perry Walker High School Band is Wilbert Rawlins, a 6'4" gold-toothed powerhouse, driven to keep up his reputation as the best band director in the city. Rawlins credits his own band director with saving him from the fates of his seven closest childhood friends, all lost to murder and drugs. 

Rawlins steered his former drum major Brandon away from trouble and into college. Now he's hiring him as his assistant, hoping he'll carry on his legacy.